Q&A: House transfer in a trust

Dear Liz: My dad set up a living trust that included his house, which has a mortgage on it. The lender accepted the transfer of the home to the trust. Dad recently passed away so the house should transfer to my sister and myself. Can the lender trigger the due-on-sale clause? Or make me or my sister qualify for the mortgage?

Answer: A federal law known as the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982 details several situations in which lenders can’t enforce due-on-sale clauses, including when a home passes to a relative or joint tenant, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach. The law applies to residential properties with four or fewer dwelling units.

You and your sister won’t have to qualify for a new loan but can continue making payments under the current mortgage terms. If you can’t afford the payments, you’ll need to consider other options, such as refinancing or selling the home.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Spring travel ahead? One airline is prioritizing customer safety. Also in the news: Considering elite airline status in 2021, taking some of the mystery out of buying a house sight unseen, and how to build your credit without a credit card.

Spring Travel Ahead? One Airline Is Prioritizing Customer Safety
Delta is now the only major airline blocking middle seats on all domestic flights through the spring.

Is Airline Elite Status Worth Considering in 2021?
The requirements to earn elite status are lower this year, so it’s easier to get these perks for 2021 and 2022.

Take Some of the Mystery Out of Buying a House Sight Unseen
Finding the right agent and getting help from others on the ground can help you buy a house even if you can’t visit it in person.

How to Build Your Credit Without a Credit Card
Credit builder loans can help.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you should stop waiting to sell your home. Also in the news: How to find a Black financial advisor, sharing renters insurance with a roommate, and why you need to start claiming crypto on your taxes.

Why You Should Stop Waiting to Sell Your Home
Now maybe a good time to sell your home. First, decide whether to sell before or after finding your next place.

How to Find a Black Financial Advisor
There are a few ways, but understanding the “why” may be just as important as the “how.”

Can I Share Renters Insurance With My Roommate?
Many companies permit it, but there’s no guarantee it’ll save you money in the long run.

Why You Need to Start Claiming Crypto on Your Taxes
The IRS wants to know.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Debit card fraud? Act fast to protect your money. Also in the news: How a data nerd tackled buying a house, popular 2021 home upgrades and how to pay for them, and when you don’t need to buy travel insurance.

Debit Card Fraud? Act Fast to Protect Your Money
When dealing with debit card fraud, get in touch with your bank quickly to protect your account.

How a Data Nerd Tackled Buying a House
The best financial advice is a starting point.

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If you can’t pay for a remodeling project with your savings, compare financing options to find the right fit.

When You Don’t Need to Buy Travel Insurance
Cancellation policies have relaxed during the pandemic, so you may not need travel insurance at all.

Q&A: Future home sale affects Medicare

Dear Liz: I am 65 and have a very low income but will be selling my home of 25 years soon to downsize. How will the one-time capital gains affect my Medicare payments, which are currently at the minimum? Can I share with the Social Security office that this is a one-time event and that the following years will all have a very low income stream? Will they adjust my payments up one year and back down the next?

Answer: You can exempt up to $250,000 per person of home sale profit from capital gains, so only profit above that amount would be added into your modified adjusted gross income to determine your Medicare premiums. There’s a two-year lag, so if you sell your home this year and report it on the tax return that’s due next year, your premiums will increase the following year (in your case, in 2023).

As noted in a previous column, you can appeal the increase if your income was affected by certain life-changing events including marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, work stoppage or reduction, loss of income-producing property (because of a disaster or other event beyond your control), loss of pension income or an employer settlement payment because of an employer bankruptcy or reorganization. If you don’t qualify to appeal, the increase would only be for one year and your premiums would return to normal afterward.

Another option is to structure the deal so you receive the payout over time, rather than all at once, but consult an accountant or financial planner before proceeding.

Q&A: A house in one state, a spouse in another. What about taxes?

Dear Liz: My husband recently took a dream job in a different state. We are renting a place there, and it is his primary residence. We own our home in the “original” state, where I live and work. We intend to keep our home for another three to four years. How will this impact our taxes? We are married, filing jointly and our income is straightforward W-2. Will we need to file as residents in both states? I know most states will credit taxes already paid on income earned in another state, but which is our “primary” residence? I may base permanently in the new state because I can work remotely. I am confused about filing jointly when each spouse lives in a different state.

Answer: Please talk to an accountant about the best way to handle your returns. In some cases, spouses who live in different states can submit their federal tax returns as “married filing jointly” while filing their respective state returns as “married filing separately.” Other times, there may be tax advantages to filing jointly in one state, or the nonresident spouse will be required to file.

If you are required to submit a return to the nonresident state, your accountant can tell you whether you qualify for credits. Alternatively, there may be a reciprocal tax agreement between states that allows nonresidents to avoid taxes if they follow certain rules.

But you’ll want to be particularly careful if you currently live in a high-tax state with a reputation for aggressive residency audits such as California, New York and Illinois.

A state auditor may decide that your husband’s move is temporary and his income is thus subject to your state’s taxes. It would be up to him to prove otherwise, and that may not be as easy as changing his voter registration. A tax pro can help guide him, and later you, on the best way to establish residency.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What the new COVID relief package means for you and your money. Also in the news: Second relief bill and vaccine rollout attract fraudsters, taking advantage of student loan breaks before 2020 ends, and why a down payment is just the beginning of buying a new home.

What the New COVID Relief Package Means For Your Money
It includes $600 checks for millions of Americans and revives federal unemployment aid and loans for small businesses.

Scam Alert: Second Relief Bill, Vaccine Rollout Attract Fraudsters
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Take Advantage of Student Loan Breaks Before 2020 Ends
Consider making a lump-sum payment, addressing defaulted loans or refinancing private loans before the year ends.

Want to buy a home? A down payment is just the beginning
What can go wrong, will go wrong, and you’ll need cash to pay for repairs and everything else for your new home

Q&A: Refinancing brings tax questions

Dear Liz: I recently refinanced my house and got $9,400 cash back. I also received a $2,400 escrow check from my previous mortgage lender. Is this money taxable? Should I put away a certain percentage of it to pay those taxes? My plan is just to put it back into household repairs (fireplace, painting, etc.).

Answer: You got cash back because you took out a larger loan than the one you previously had. You have to pay that money back, so it’s not taxable income. The escrow check represents a refund of money you’d already paid to the first lender. You don’t get taxed on that, either.

Q&A: Rent-or-buy question isn’t simple

Dear Liz: I often agree with your advice, but recently you suggested a 70-year-old widow rent rather than buy. I say buy the condo with the stairs and reap the appreciation. Later, if you need a home without stairs, sell the condo and buy another with your profit. I’m 73, and buying rather than renting has allowed me to live payment-free while leaving some future equity for my heirs.

Answer: In a follow-up email, the reader told me she had already purchased the condo and just wanted confirmation she’d done the right thing. A bigger issue than the stairs is her lack of savings and the possibility she would become house rich and cash poor. Fortunately, though, the condo is new and she’s not likely to face large special assessments for repairs, which would be an issue for an older building.

Q&A: They want to give the caretaker the house she lives in without imposing a tax burden

Dear Liz: Our family owns a vacation home. A caretaker for the property lives in a smaller house next door that is also owned by our family. We consider her part of our extended family and would like to show our appreciation when the property is sold. Our wish would be to give the smaller house in which she lives to her as a gift, but we know the annual payment of property taxes would probably be too great a financial burden for her to live there as a retiree. (She is currently in her 50s.) Is there some sort of trust or fund we could set up that would cover her property taxes until her death without adding to her taxable income?

Answer: Yes, but there may be a better solution.

A trust can be set up to pay the property taxes or other property expenses during the caretaker’s lifetime, said Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach. Trusts face high tax rates, however, and cost money to set up and administer. Plus, you have to find people willing to be trustees and backup trustees who are likely to outlive the caretaker. You also must decide what happens to the money when the caretaker passes away.

All these issues are surmountable, of course. Younger members of your family could be trustees, for example, or you could hire professional trustees. The money could be invested conservatively, or in tax-efficient mutual funds, to minimize taxes. Or it could be invested aggressively enough to pay the tax bill and still provide enough income to pay the property expenses.

Another, simpler solution would be to give her the cash outright. Gifts are not taxable to the receiver, so the gift itself would not increase her income taxes. She would have the burden of managing the cash, of course. Like the trust, she could invest to minimize taxes or more aggressively to potentially grow the money and offset inflation. Either way, her tax rates probably would be lower than the trust’s.

An estate planning attorney can help your family discuss the various options and set up the documents to carry out your wishes.